By Lisa Calautti
While chief executives and their C-suite colleagues often hit the headlines in the business media, the vast majority of managers do not actually operate at that high-profile level. Most are ‘middle managers’ who sit between senior management and the wider workforce. This silent majority can sometimes struggle to make their voices heard in their organisations, but it’s important for everyone that they find a way.
Sam Bell FIML, IML ANZ’s Corporate Services and Research General Manager, says that influential middle managers are invaluable because they help secure the willing cooperation of staff, assist in garnering support from colleagues and earn a hearing for their views and opinions among bosses and senior leaders. Influential middle managers are often the catalyst for positive change in a business – securing approval for new ideas, proposals, and initiatives.
For those middle managers seeking to develop their influencing skills, Bell shares the following tips:
1. BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
Influencing is about getting a hearing for your own ideas and perspectives, about playing a role in shaping agendas and strategies, promoting change in your organisation and getting approval for new initiatives and projects. You will be unable to achieve this, without a clear understanding of your exact aims and objectives. Keep up to date with the current position of your organisation and the market or sector in which it operates.
2. UNDERSTAND ORGANISATIONAL DYNAMICS
Gain an understanding of your organisation’s culture. Remain alert to the unwritten rules of how things are done and be aware of the dynamics of power and authority within your team, your department and the organisation. Ask yourself: Who are the prime movers and shakers? Who has a reputation for being able to get things done?
3. UNDERSTAND WHAT MAKES PEOPLE TICK
If you are to influence anyone, whether it is those you manage, colleagues in other departments or senior managers, you need to get to know them and to understand what motivates them and what their personal and professional goals are. Pay attention to body language, tone of voice and facial expressions.
4. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Network widely across all areas and levels of your organisation, so that people know who you are, what you do and what you stand for. Take an interest in people and invest time and effort in developing relationships.
5. FORM ALLIANCES
To develop real influence, you will need to go beyond a loose network of contacts. Build alliances and coalitions of supporters based on common interests and values. Weigh up who is most likely to support you and who will be the most valuable partners.
6. PLAN AHEAD
It is vital to be proactive and plan ahead if you are seeking support for a particular course of action. Think carefully about what you want to achieve, whose support you need to gain, when is the best time to introduce your ideas and what is the best way to do it.
7. HONE YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Communication skills play a crucial role in influencing. Active listening and questioning skills will help you to read other people and to pick up on subtle verbal and non-verbal cues as to what they really think.
8. LEARN TO CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS
Your enthusiasm and even passion for your ideas can be a powerful force. Influencers need to be assertive – to express their views confidently, to make reasonable requests of others and to set boundaries. On occasion, you will need to stand your ground and rebut criticism. But don’t allow assertiveness to degenerate into aggressive behaviour.
9. LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES
Don’t become discouraged if your influencing tactics are not always successful. Recognise that you won’t win every battle and resolve to learn from your failures. When things go wrong, try to identify the reasons and consider what you could have done differently and what might work better next time.
10. DON’T LOSE YOUR MORAL COMPASS
While being influential does require single-mindedness and a degree of calculation in working towards your goals, it’s important not to lose sight of your personal values. Positive ethical influencers seek to demonstrate the benefits of their ideas, not just for themselves and their position but for their colleagues, the wider organisation and society in general.
ACCELERATE YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS
Leading and influencing from the middle of the management hierarchy comes with pressures from above, below and laterally. IML ANZ’s Intentional Leadership Accelerate Program equips managers with the skills required in this crucial leadership position.
The program blends facilitated learning, online study, practical workplace projects, leadership coaching, mentoring and diagnostic reports. See how Accelerate delivers development differently here.